Osceola Heritage Park ready to serve up something special

By Peter Covino

A&E Editor

When Osceola Heritage Park  opened in 2003, when it came to serving food, it was pretty much intertwined with the Silver Spurs Arena.

Yes, barbecue had to be on the menu.

Fast-forward more than a decade, and the 150-acre multipurpose complex, known for rodeos, concerts, baseball and conventions  could soon be known as a great place to get a meal as well.

OHP took a giant step in that direction with the recent opening of the Heritage Club, the complex’s dining facility, frequently used for VIP events associated with the Silver Spurs Rodeo, Runaway Country Music Festival and other events held at the complex.

But with a new culinary team in place, one with more than 70 years of combined experience, dining too could become an important part of the Osceola Heritage Park experience.

Key to the new changes at OHP is SMP/Osceola Heritage Park naming Tony Donnelly director of food beverage services at the complex.

Donnelly, who joined SMG as executive chef at Osceola Heritage Park in 2006, has quite the resume.

Before coming to OHP, Donnelly was with the Walt Disney Company where he was instrumental in the freshening up of several restaurants at the Polynesian Resort.  He also was responsible for the training of the culinary team for the Disney Magic cruise ship, before it opened, as well as assisting with the opening of Euro Disney in France.

“I spent 20 years at one place, with 15 jobs,” he said of his Disney experience.

“I was there for the prime-time of Epcot, the early years when it was growing so fast,” Donnelly said.

That kind of experience just might repeat itself at Osceola Heritage Park with possible changes at the complex.

Also newly added to the mix is the full-time hiring of former part-time employee, Jim Weinland as executive sous chef.  Weinland too has been with OHP/SMG and SAVOR, the company’s concession and catering arm for a long time.

“SAVOR gives chefs a lot of autonomy,” in the kitchen, Donnelly said. “We are encouraged to look at our demographics.”

Both Donnelly and Weinland agree it is a great company that encourages individualism.

“It is not something from a corporate shelf,” Donnelly said.

“We have a lot of creative freedom,” Weinland added.

And that is something Osceola residents and visitors should be seeing more of in the future.

The Heritage Club will be an important part of that future. The dining facility is state-of-the-art with more than 3,500 square-feet and includes a full bar, 15 high-definition flat screen monitors, a full house sound system with digital presentation capabilities.

During the Runaway Country festival, for example, breakfast and lunch were available at the Heritage Club, something that many of the hundreds of campers who were there for throughout the three-day music festival, took advantage of.

That will be expanded on when the music festival returns in the spring of 2017, Donnelly said.

“We want to expand on that and will probably do a buffet, plus have a different menu every day for guests,” he said.

The culinary team also did all of the meals for the Houston Astros during spring training. The Astros are gone, but there is new minor league baseball team coming to the stadium and the chefs are hopeful they will be playing a major part of the plans their as well, but that will be up to the new team owners.

“We will have to feel them out on what they want to do,” Donnelly said.

The diversity of the place is one of the fun aspects of the job, because of the various events at the complex each week,” Weinland said.

In addition to the Heritage Club, the complex’s Exhibition Hall offers a lot of potential for in-house meals.

“We can turn the hall into something special,” he said. The exhibition hall gets used for the teacher of year banquet, state of the county address meeting and the Kissimmee Chamber of Commerce HobNob event.

The fun aspect also can be quite apparent when the venue has concert performers. They presented a bar of solid chocolate made into the shape of a guitar to the Beach Boys and Jeff Dunham, ventriloquist/comedian, was given a solid chocolate suitcase, much like the one he uses to keep his famous puppets.

On top all the in-house dining events, the culinary team (there is a total of about 50 full-time and part-time employees) also do a lot of catered affairs as well.